Success in Szczecin: Wesley Chapel brothers excel in karate

There’s a little more gold, silver and bronze in Wesley Chapel thanks to the Vo brothers. But they had to go to Poland to get it.

The brothers — Derick, Jason and Andrew — were part of a team representing the United States at the World Union of Karate-Do Federations World Karate Championship in Szczecin, Poland, last month. All three had strong showings at the karate event, which is designed for juniors and children.

Derick Vo, left, battles an opponent from Portugal at the karate championship in Poland. His performance helped him earn bronze in the event.  (Courtesy of Duy-Linh Vo)

Derick Vo, left, battles an opponent from Portugal at the karate championship in Poland. His performance helped him earn bronze in the event. (Courtesy of Duy-Linh Vo)

And even beyond bringing home medals, it’s a trip oldest brother Derick, 16, won’t soon forget.

“It was an amazing experience because it was the first time me and my brothers were all able to travel together and compete in the world championships,” he said.

Derick, a junior at Wesley Chapel High School, trains with his brothers at Keiko Shin Karate Academy in Wesley Chapel.

Derick won second place in kata, which involves being judged on choreographed movements. He took third place in individual and team kumite, which is a form of competitive sparring.

When he was younger he didn’t enjoy kumite as much, Derick said. But in his 10 years in karate, he’s come to appreciate both forms of competition, and enjoys excelling in both disciplines.

At just 5-foot-4, Derick had to face opponents who were several inches taller than he is. He made up for reach deficits by using his own strengths to his advantage.

“I really concentrate on speed, and I also rely on counter-attacking,” he said.

Middle brother Andrew, 12, also performed well, but admitted to some pre-competition jitters.

“I was nervous,” he said. “I just didn’t think about it and did what I had to do.”

When he calmed his nerves, he defeated opponents from countries like Romania, Belgium and Italy to claim the gold in kumite.

Having his brothers with him was an advantage, Andrew said, as they provided support and advice to help him succeed. The experience was hard work, but also fun because he could share it with family.

That included youngest brother Jason, 11, who finished outside the top three in kata and kumite, but overcame more challenging odds to succeed. He had to compete against some opponents who were 12 years old, meaning they often had a significant size and height advantage.

Still, Jason finished fourth in kata and fifth in kumite, proving his skill in two categories while facing around two dozen competitors from all over the world. And he recognizes the significance of his accomplishment.

“I feel great because not many people (finish) that high,” Jason said.

While the brothers often faced different opponents and brought different levels of skill to the competition, they all felt the advantage of having their father, Duy-Linh Vo, with them on their trip.

“My dad has always been there for me from when I first started until now,” Derick said. “He’s always right there helping me, encouraging me and giving me tips.”

Andrew agrees. “He always helps me and he’s always there for me, cheering me on,” he said.

For Duy-Linh, traveling with his sons was about supporting them and giving them opportunities he didn’t have growing up. A Vietnam native, Duy-Linh wasn’t able to study the Japanese art of karate in his home country, even though it interested him.

“In Vietnam they were very limited in dojos (karate learning centers) in rural areas,” he said.

So when the boys had an opportunity to represent the United States, Duy-Linh made sure they were able to participate. He estimates the trip cost around $20,000 for the family, with donations from friends and relatives helping fund expenses.

The end result was not only success and recognition for his children’s karate skill, but validation for the work they put in at their dojo, and at home. And when he saw Andrew claim gold, he was overcome with emotion and pride for all three of his sons.

“I pushed my tears back so I would not let people see I was crying,” he said. “My children, they work so hard.”

Published November 5, 2014

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